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This Week In Garbageville

Civil rights, what are those?

What mattered this week? What didn't? What the hell is “covfefe”? Answers below.

Come at the Comey, you best not miss

Hyperbole is contagious these days, so of course James Comey’s upcoming Senate appearance on June 8 has already been dubbed “the most consequential congressional testimony in a generation.” We can only hope so! Comey is reportedly “cleared” to discuss his past conversations with Trump about the FBI’s investigation into Russian tampering with the 2016 election, perhaps elaborating on the paper trail of memos he sent to colleagues after his “unsettling” interactions with the president. There’s a twist, though: Comey will have to avoid discussing the investigation itself. This has been widely interpreted to mean that Comey will talk about Trump’s attempts to influence, or even halt, the Russia probe. Cue #resistance gloating and a huge spike in D.C. popcorn sales.

Should I be paying attention to this?

Damn straight. But prepare to be disappointed. First of all, Trump may invoke executive privilege — a somewhat controversial legal maneuver that allows the president to declare some information off-limits to all other branches of government (and the public) based purely on his say-so. He could prevent Comey from testifying about any of their interactions.

Would it be ironic for this notoriously filter-free president to invoke such privilege? Yes, yes it would. Also, it would be fishy. It would advertise that Trump has something to hide (and only amplify the Nixon analogies already floating around, as Nixon tried to use executive privilege to withhold the Watergate tapes). What’s more, it’s not clear that Trump can invoke executive privilege over a conversation he’s already tweeted about to his millions of followers.

While Trump invoking executive privilege would at least keep the Russia fires smoking, the other, very real possibility is that Comey might throw cold water over the whole obstruction-of-justice theory. After all, when asked directly about obstruction in hearings earlier this month, Comey seemed to indicate it didn’t happen:

Senator Mazie Hirono: If the attorney general or senior officials at the Department of Justice opposes a specific investigation, can they halt that FBI investigation?

James Comey: In theory, yes.

Hirono: Has it happened?

Comey: Not in my experience. ... I'm talking about a situation where we were told to stop something for a political reason that would be a very big deal. It has not happened in my experience.

And then there’s acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, who testified that there has been “no effort to impede” the Russia investigation.

But there is wiggle room in both statements. Comey was only asked about the DOJ interfering, after all — and, for what it's worth, the original line of questioning in that exchange was about the Clinton email investigation. And McCabe might have a really specific definition of “impede” in mind — or he was speaking only to his own experience, not what Comey may have witnessed or been the subject of.


We hope.

Civil rights, what are those?

It’s apparent that Trump has thanked Russia for its support of him in last year’s election through his rhetoric and actions. He’s also recently shown the same gratitude for another big contributor to his Electoral College victory: bigotry. This past week, the Washington Post reported that his administration is planning to disband the part of the U.S. Labor Department that has overseen anti-discrimination enforcement for the last four decades. That department isn’t being singled out: The environmental justice division of the EPA is also being zeroed out, and the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights faces big staff cuts as well. Meanwhile, Jeff Sessions’s Justice Department has signaled that it will let police brutality and voter suppression go unchallenged, and both the Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services departments have revoked Obama-era steps to either help LGBTQ Americans or simply make them more visible.

“They can call it a course correction, but there’s little question that it’s a rollback of civil rights across the board,” Vanita Gupta, the Justice Department head of civil rights under Obama, told the Post.

Should I be paying attention to this?

Yes. The Trump administration, it appears, is attempting to eliminate the federal enforcement of civil rights. It sends a clear message that this government is not one of the people, by the people, for the people — it merely serves the people who it believes put it in power. Racism and cultural resentment were primary motivating factors for Trump's voters, and discriminatory ballot restrictions worked in concert with Russian interference; you could say that Jim Crow and Vladimir Putin were both big Trump supporters. In a way, Trump is doing what his voters elected him to do: minimize the government’s recognition and validation of differing identities and disparate impacts of policy.

In declawing Washington’s ability to help further civil rights, Trump is using one of white supremacy's favorite tools: willful ignorance. And the tricky thing is that they’re not implementing new, harshly racist policies; this particular move simply removes the safeguards against the systemic discrimination that already exists. Bigotry’s best friend isn’t a police baton, or a gun, or a burning cross. It’s a pair of shrugging shoulders attached to someone who says they’d love to help, but can’t.

It may soon cost more to stay un-pregnant

Trump’s administration is about to make it more difficult to afford birth control. A draft regulation in the final stages of White House consideration was leaked on Wednesday, and it indicates that the administration is planning to gut the Obamacare mandate that requires nearly every employer to guarantee copay-free contraceptive coverage. Houses of worship are currently exempted from that mandate, but other religious employers who oppose abortion and non-procreative sex are not. The proposed change would broaden the exemptions to a point at which, it appears, virtually any boss could decide to withhold coverage for contraceptive medication.

All this new rule needs is a stamp of approval from Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, and it will be in effect. Supporters of Obamacare in the Senate wrote to Mulvaney urging him to “cease any efforts related to President Trump’s May 4th Executive Order that would undermine access to affordable preventive services including contraception for women,” but it’s doubtful it will have any effect on an administration that has had reproductive choice in its crosshairs since it took over in January.

Should I be paying attention to this?

Yes, regardless of your gender. Fifty-five million women use birth control that’s covered by their medical insurance, and many do so for medical reasons besides preventing pregnancy. Even if you’re not a woman, the implications of this looming decision are large. Though Trump hasn’t been shy about opposing government-mandated contraceptive coverage, his administration was working on this new rule essentially in secret. Until the leak this week, there had been no indication of its grand scope. And don’t think that even if you’re forced to carry that fetus to term that you’ll be able to count upon Obamacare’s mandate for maternity coverage — Republicans are trying to get rid of that in their overwhelmingly unpopular American Health Care Act, which passed in the House nearly a month ago.

If Trump succeeds in making reproductive care a more expensive proposition, keep an eye on state bills that seek to make up the difference. New York, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Oregon are the only states that have either introduced or advanced legislation that would allow patients continued access to no-cost contraception even if an employer refuses to insure them for it.

Politically speaking, there’s also something to note here. From the outside, it seems odd that the conservative evangelical lobby would be so loyal to a president who has shown himself to be quite the sinner. Trump has made overtures to religious voters, sure, but you’d think his personal behavior would give these churchgoing folks pause. This news, though, makes it plain why they (or any Republican) stick by Trump: They want something from him. These kinds of alliances are nothing new, but that doesn’t make this any less opportunistic. This potential new regulation is proof that even when your entire political identity is wrapped up in religion, moral compromise is always possible.

The wrong way to a small, angry planet

On Friday, the United States joined Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries in the world to reject the Paris climate agreement, a voluntary pact to keep average global temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius beyond pre–Industrial Revolution levels. In the broad scope of history, this may wind up being Trump's most devastating presidential act because he might be responsible for giving us a much shorter history, period. It's not just that leaving this agreement will allow U.S. companies to press the gas pedal toward the planet's imminent destruction, either: It's that we're abdicating leadership on the most urgent global issue facing us today.

If you want to pull a shred of good news out of this, it's that Trump's announcement has highlighted the rest of the world’s consensus and collective will: that climate change is real, and that we must act now to save each other.

Should I be paying attention to this?

Yes, of course. For one, the mechanics of leaving the agreement are still unclear. This means that voters can still influence Congress as they respond to the president's action. You should also be organizing your heart out, because local jurisdictions — mayors and governors — have also pledged to the accord, and you can make a difference at the state and city and county level by encouraging these local leaders to maintain the agreement. You can influence companies and trade organizations with activism, boycotts, and your own consumer choices. The federal government is the most efficient vehicle for curbing bad environmental behavior, but it's not the only one.

Trump's cowardly retreat from climate change realism is also an important data point in how we need to think about Trump moving forward. After all, it's not that surprising that Trump wound up pulling out of the Paris climate accord. It's not even that surprising that he orchestrated the announcement about it like a final rose ceremony, which — haha — isn't completely inappropriate, what with climate change bringing an end to green things and relationships and humans alike.

What's shocking is that anyone thought it would go any other way. I mean, of course he milked the suspense for all it's worth; we should get used to every major announcement being played for sweeps week–style drama (he's doing the same thing with the much-chattered-about “White House staff shake-up”). And of course he pulled out. He's been more consistent on climate denial than he has on most other issues! But up until the last minute, spinners and enablers such as Elon Musk were pretending that Trump could change his mind, and that Javanka might hold hidden sway!

Here's the real headline: They don't. (See also: birth control, above.) Trump's various pivots and flip-flops aren't the result of artful manipulation, they're the product of his minuscule attention span and selfishness. Sure, his ego and lack of focus (and sheer ignorance) can work in concert to erode Trump's opinions into actions and policies that are less bad than the ones he previously held (on Chinese currency manipulation, on NAFTA). But you can't count on that happening. When it comes to Trump, you should always, always prepare for the worst.

He told us who he was; it's maybe the one thing he told the truth about.

The one sort-of funny thing that happened this week

Just after midnight Eastern time on Wednesday morning, on his 132nd day in office, President Trump tweeted, “Despite the constant negative press covfefe” — and that was it. The post stayed there all night as America both joked and wondered aloud if Trump had suffered some kind of medical crisis. Trump was fine: He logged on at his usual absurd hour of the morning, deleted the tweet, and seemed to have a little fun with it himself.

But then Press Secretary Sean Spicer screwed things up by essentially saying how glorious the emperor's new clothes were. “I think the president and a small group of people knew exactly what he meant,” he told reporters Wednesday afternoon, never explaining exactly what Trump meant.

Should I be paying attention to this?

Is “covfefe” something to pay attention to, in and of itself? No, the joke's over. But one thing is worth noting: This White House can't even cop to a Twitter typo without inventing some ridiculous excuse. That seems like a bad quality for any adult, let alone a president and his press secretary.